What do you think, Lilian?

Several years ago I listened to Ken Myers interview a woman on Mars Hill Audio (Volume 62). I was writing a book on advertising at the time and her insights jumped out of my dashboard and into my notebook. No, really. I pulled into a Blockbuster parking lot and began penning her comments.

Since then, I’ve quoted her numerous times in lectures and discussions, recommended her book, Eve’s Revenge, to friends and colleagues, and continued to savor her words about spirituality, the body, and popular media.

For the second New Breed of Advertisers interview, I’d like to introduce you to that woman, Lilian Calles Barger.

Lilian is a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She received her undergraduate degree in business from the University of Texas-Arlington and an MA from the University of Texas-Dallas. After a twenty-year career in business, she founded and led the Damaris Project, an initiative to provide resources for women to start meaningful conversations in their communities. She has written for numerous publications and is the author of Eve’s Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body (Brazos Press, 2003), which received outstanding reviews, and Chasing Sophia: Reclaiming the Lost Wisdom of Jesus (Jossey-Bass, 2007). Lilian is a frequent speaker on the intersection of faith and contemporary cultural issues. She lives in Dallas with her husband and two sons.


NBoA: What sparked your interest in writing about women’s bodies?

Lilian: When I began to read women's history, biographies of women, and look at the media targeting women, the thing that stood out is the role, meaning, and even obsession with women's bodies. I figured anything that culturally significant had to have profound spiritual implications. No matter what women do, or how successful they are in any other area, the implications of the female body are hard to escape.

NBoA: In Eve’s Revenge, you wrote that women “are constantly bombarded by concrete and codified images of beauty that assault the senses” (44). I like your description. Are there codes in advertising’s images that you find particularly assaulting to the senses?

Lilian: When all you see is very slim, young, women with no pores, and vacant looks, you are not seeing anything close to reality. Or at least nothing that does not require constant physical monitoring to achieve. Images of the human, while not necessarily needing to capture an absolute realism, should project a fully engaged, alive, and aware human being – not a zombie.

NBoA: You started The Damaris Project in 1997 to encourage conversations about “women’s lives, culture and the teachings of Jesus.” How would you host a Damaris conversation for women who work on Madison Avenue?

Lilian: I would assume that women who work on Madison Avenue have the same concerns that women everywhere have. They may experience more intensity in some areas; but overall, most women are concerned with body image, relationships, and having a sense of wholeness while standing on their own two feet.

NBoA: In a blog post you wrote,

“Fashion is the most personal form of art, close to the body and communicating a great deal about the wearer. It’s an art form hard for any of us to completely avoid. Who would want to escape the possibility of beautiful adornment?”

Are you suggesting that the fashion industry (and therefore her bedfellow, popular advertising) can be something good for consumers?

Lilian: I am not assuming a consumer ethic. I have a great deal of problems with consumerism and what comes with it, including what has been called the "organized creation of dissatisfaction." In my post I am assuming that clothing is something human beings have been involved with since the beginning of culture. People clothed themselves even in non-consumer-oriented societies. Advertising uses art to sell products and as far as it does it is also a creative expression. However, when the fashion or advertising industries give narrow definitions of what is acceptable, and lie about the true nature of art or the value of the human person, it's a problem.

NBoA: In an earlier post on these “narrow definitions,” I quoted one female student’s lamentation: “There’s no wiggle room.” Okay, so she sees a problem and you see a problem and plenty of others do too, but women still head into these industries. There seems to be a disconnection here.

So let’s imagine there’s a 22 year old who’s fresh out of college with an advertising degree and a related job that starts next month. This past semester, however, she read Eve’s Revenge and suddenly realized how the value that God places on our bodies is often diminished and disfigured by popular advertising. Should her new job feel like a quandary or an opportunity?

Lilian: I think she really needs to think about the ethics that will guide her career. There are some careers that are harder than others to be true to values greater than the market. Particularly when you are just starting out and you don't have enough power to influence major decisions. It can be an opportunity, but I think she is going to have to make some tough choices. Is she up to that?

NBoA: Well said. I’ve heard young professionals wrestle with this dilemma of when to live out their convictions: “Now or later? When I’m at the bottom of the ladder or the top?” It doesn’t seem like it should be an issue, but then I wonder if anyone’s job is free of ethical dilemmas.

And speaking of those, Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” comes to mind because it uses ads to try to improve self-esteem. Is this a legitimate attempt? If not, are there appropriate ways to portray the body in advertising – ways that might bolster a healthy, biblical, view of the body?

Lilian: Let's consider another question. Is it okay for us to buy into the values of consumer capitalism? Advertising is the lubricant to consumer spending. Bottom line is that Dove is trying to sell you a product. They are not primarily concerned with your self-esteem. I think the idea that a consumer product company can improve our self-esteem is silly. While they can certainly aid in its destruction, I doubt that they can really improve it because whatever improvement it offers is built on buying the product. Advertising can reinforce false cultural values but I don't think it can remedy them. Why? Because ads have one overarching aim: to sell you things. On the other hand, there are companies that do have ethical values, and buying their products can be less destructive than buying others. Ethical means fair trade, fair labor, fair pricing, and fair dealings with the environment, but it also means honest advertising.

NBoA: True, but don’t certain Dove products have honest-to-goodness value for the consumer? Like their Energize Beauty Body Wash (random pick from their website), which “contains an ultra-light hydrating formula, invigorating beads and the sparkling scent of grapefruit and lemongrass to give you a boost in the morning.”

This is pretty wording and the cynic in me wants to dismiss it, but moisturized skin and a morning boost makes anyone feel a bit better – privately and publicly. Is it possible that someone at Dove (maybe not from sales, but possibly a copy-writer or graphic designer) cares about women’s health more than money?

Lilian: Lemongrass may give me a one-minute boost, but something else has to drive my morning motivation. I’m not picking on Dove. I have no idea who is on their ad project, or their intent beyond wanting to sell a product. Wanting to sell a product is okay, and telling you it smells good or that it’s a good value is fine, too. I would rather use soap that smells good versus soap that smells like lye. What they can’t do or imply is that I will be prettier, more loveable, or more motivated if I use their product. Soap can make you physically clean and therefore healthier, but it can’t really make you a more confident person. It seems rather pitiful that we look to marketers to help us feel better about ourselves. The social poverty is astounding.

NBoA: I wonder where readers are on this point about a product’s social benefits. I know it sounds vain and even contrary to my cynicism, but, personally, I derive a great deal of value from certain products. Perhaps this just discloses my own social poverty.

Last question, Lilian: To the female reader who is necklace deep in her advertising career, what encouragement would you offer?

Lilian: Evaluate your career based on your values. To what end have you sought to increase people’s desire for a product? The question of how followers of Jesus can live ethically in our economic system is not a simple matter. It's never just about making the sell or closing the deal. I suggest reading Being Consumed, by William T. Cavanaugh. It provides some good faith-based cultural analysis of our consumer culture without rejecting it all together. For those seeking to follow a spiritual path, the question of human flourishing and whether what we produce aids toward that end is a very serious question.


Lilian, thank you for contributing to this ongoing conversation. Folks in the advertising world have quite a challenge before them (as do all of us), and your final point about the end to which we work is critical if we hope to succeed at love. I’m glad for your efforts to re-orient our perspectives.

Readers, don’t hesitate to comment here. You can also connect with Lilian by reading her books and visiting her blog at www.lilianbarger.com. Learn more about the Damaris Project at www.damarisproject.org.


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"It's hard to smell your litter box if you can't smell it."

I don't have a cat, but if I did, this is the litter I'd buy. There may be ten brands with better absorbency and odor elimination, but this shot sells.

...which makes me wonder how often creativity trumps actual product effectiveness.


Plagiarize me: Part 2

Cultivation is creation. It's the mixing of raw ingredients to make every imaginable and unimaginable Something Else, like tractors, soccer shoes and pixels ("small squares of digital information with a colour value").

Image and pixel definition taken from here if you're really interested.

I learned about ingredients from Mister Rogers (Remember "Picture Picture"?) and have always been fascinated by how stuff is made. I first touched on the ethical importance of ingredients in advertising in a short post here.

As I was saying, cultivation - interestingly one of the first tasks given to Adam and Eve - is creation. But progress naturally leads to a higher possibility for product look-a-likes simply due to the abundance of things created. If I'm the only one making a Widget, it's unique. When thousands are manufacturing Widgets across the planet, uniqueness is hard to come by, especially if the Widget is simple in design.

Rob Walker, author of Buying In, says, "The more narrow the range of actual differences in commodity attributes, the more important it becomes to create a different kind of value - one that transcends the material" (8). Yet something happens to us as this range narrows.

Think about it. If we believe that creativity is endless, then we've come no closer to uniformity than when the second Widget-maker set up shop downstream from Adam. But it certainly feels like creativity is endangered - at least with certain products. Consequently, we shield our creations and possessions like Gollum when others come too close to copying them. This is always the case with scarcity.

If creativity is limited, however (again, at least with certain products), then we're heading toward a point where the range narrows enough to nullify trademarks and copyrights. With this limitation perspective, eventually you'll have to plagiarize me.


Well, OK, you can plagiarize me.

(If you subscribe to this blog via e-mail, you may have received this post a few times. Sorry about that - I'm just over-analyzing and re-editing, hopefully for the better.)

I found Logo Design Love today and really enjoyed this post. In it, David pairs a number of logos that have uncanny similarities.

I don't know how he found them all, but he did and it makes me wonder who created and who stole and how the copiers got away with their mimicry (if it was intentional). Two examples from the post:

This raises a bunch of questions, and you can read some of them in David's comment section (A couple are from Yours Truly). But for now, how about this one:

True or False:
People wouldn't worry about copyrights and trademarks and plagiarism if everybody followed the Golden Rule.


"Cover the Earth" contest results

Despite the goldmine of creativity out there, you heard it from Yukon. Nothin'.

The first ever NBofA pro-bono graphic design contest has officially come to end and there were no entries to respond to Sherwin-William's "Cover the Earth" logo.

S-W 1; NBofA, 0.

However, Bob tuned in recently with a comment that he knows someone who may know someone at the tippy-top of S-W. Perhaps it ain't over yet. I'll post if I get any news.

A special thanks to all who considered entering. We'll do it again, I'm sure, so stay tuned!


Four days to Cover the Earth!

It's Monday, July 14th. Only four days to enter the "Cover the Earth" contest (See previous post). If you've been mulling, pondering, hesitating, musing, ruminating or dawdling about this, it's time for birthing.

No need to fear any Red Pen Chastisement from me, so submit your idea with confidence, even if it's in draft form.


"Cover the Earth" logo contest

(Entry instructions below)

I've been meaning to say the following about Sherwin-Williams' "Cover the Earth" logo for some time: I don't like it.

Plenty of others have said the same, and maybe you agree. If you're a graphic designer, I really hope you agree, especially in light of Sherwin-Williams' environmental efforts.

Graphic designers aren't just commercial artists. They're also communicators of meaning, and if their faith actively influences their work, then the direction of SWs' GreenSure Initiatives ought to have some bearing on the graphics they produce. Granted, this logo is 100+ years old, but isn't it time for a change?

CALLING ALL GRAPHIC DESIGNERS (or friends of graphic designers, or semi-serious doodlers, or even supernatural Etch-A-Sketchers like George): Sherwin-Williams needs a new logo and slogan!

Entry instructions:
1. Check out the GreenSure Initiatives here.
2. Create a new logo and slogan for Sherwin-Williams.
3. Send the entry to me at samvaneman "at" gmail "dot" com in a commonly used file format (i.e. jpeg, PDF, doc).
4. Tell your graphic design students/friends about the contest. (You can click on the little envelope at the bottom of this post to e-mail it to them.)

Deadline for entries: July 18, 2008.

I'll post the entries after the deadline. Readers will then have a chance to vote on the top entries.

Why should you enter this contest?
+ I'll send the top two entries to Sherwin-Williams. Not sure what they'll do with them, but they'll at least know we care about the world we live in.
+ It will give you a chance to practice integrating faith and work in a practical way.
+ You'll receive feedback from readers on your work.

Thanks in advance! Now get to work.


What do you think, Professor?

Interviews are great for capturing another perspective (and providing great content for this blog).

For the inaugural New Breed of Advertisers interview, I’d like to introduce you to Scott K. Powell.

Scott is Assistant Professor of Business at Grove City College. This is his 18th year at the College, having served as Assistant to the President for 14 of those years. He is now a full-time faculty member teaching marketing, consumer behavior, advertising and marketing research courses. He also oversees the admissions marketing efforts of the College. Prof. Powell is very happily married and has two young daughters. He is striving to be the teacher, husband, father and Christian witness that God desires him to be.

I’ve been a visiting speaker in Scott's Consumer Behavior class for the past few years and I can say two things: 1) He’s good at what he does and 2) the students love him.


NBoA: Some people have trouble seeing advertising as a redeemable field of study. At least, they view it as a less viable "calling" than, say, medicine or engineering or youth ministry. Is this a valid concern, and how would you respond to them?

Scott: I understand their concern and believe that much of it is valid. Every profession (even pastoral ministry) is subject to misuse, and advertising certainly has its share of questionable practitioners. Much of the advertising with which we are bombarded is inappropriate in terms of product, presentation or both. While I am a critic of advertising’s excesses (e.g., appealing to base instincts, encouraging materialism), it is my personal and professional opinion that there are many legitimate uses of advertising. For example, I believe that Grove City College is a great school and that students who enroll here will benefit from doing so. Unless we advertise the College, though, many students will never learn about us. The same is true about many other organizations and products. If you have a helpful product that is presented honestly and fairly, advertising is a good thing.

NBoA: Can you name a specific way that faith has guided your teaching on this subject?

Scott: I continually seek God’s wisdom and guidance in my profession. My daily prayer is, “Lord, you have given me a platform (the classroom), now give me the wisdom and words to challenge both myself and my students to be salt and light in our industry.” I am firmly convinced that God has a plan for me as a marketing professor, and am currently doing preliminary research for my dissertation by exploring questions such as, “What does it mean to be a Christian and a marketer?” and “What is the proper role of marketing?” While there are no “quick and easy” answers to these questions, I pray about and ponder them daily.

NBoA: What do you find challenging as a marketing professor at this point in history?

Scott: Helping students navigate through a world that is rarely black and white is a challenge that I take very seriously. My courses attempt to help students evaluate both themselves and marketing from a Christian perspective: “What, exactly, is a ‘helpful’ product?” “How can I promote it ‘fairly’?” “Is marketing this product a good use of my gifts and talents?” These are issues with which we wrestle.

NBoA: Can you share a former student story that delights you and makes you glad you are a teacher in this field?

Scott: I am very pleased that many of my former students keep in touch with me. In the past few months I have had several of them contact me just to say that I was a Christian role model for them and that my courses helped them see marketing in a different (biblical) light. Feedback like that is simultaneously humbling and fulfilling. God has given me the opportunity to get to know hundreds of students each year. May they see me, and love Him.

NBoA: Imagine that a college senior is reading this blog post. What advice would you offer?

Scott: Marketing is a field that truly needs the influence of Christian professionals. You CAN be both a Christian and a marketer.

NBoA: Last question, Scott. What is your favorite TV commercial, print ad, or ad campaign?

Scott: On the lighter side, one of my more recent favorites is the “My talking stain” campaign for Tide-To-Go stain remover. The product meets a need (somehow I always manage to get stains on my clothes), it actually works (I have one in the glove compartment of my car) and it presents a believable (except for the stain actually talking, of course!) message via inoffensive humor:


Thanks for your time and thoughtfulness, Scott. I’d love to have you back again to tell us more about your dissertation. Until then, press on in your work for the Kingdom!

Readers, your comments about this interview are welcomed here, but you can also contact Professor Powell at skpowell@gcc.edu, or learn more about Grove City College at www.gcc.edu/ad.

I'll be away from my desk till July 11th, so talk amongst yourselves. Happy 4th!


Commissioned work

Recently, a young couple stood before our church congregation. The man and his wife had grown up here and were now heading to a foreign country to become missionaries. With excitement, they showed pictures of their destination and asked for our support. In turn, we pledged our support, reciprocated the excitement and commissioned them.

But I missed most of it. I was there, of course, but instead of rejoicing, I sat there wondering why foreign missionaries are lauded more than local folks. And I wondered why we don't have this sort of ceremony for every church member who has sought God's leading in their career.

Specifically, I thought of the many college students I visit who are about to enter the world of advertising and marketing. For those who are following Jesus and preparing to employ their gifts for Kingdom use, why don't they get a blessing?

I mean, salvation came to Zacchaeus' house simply because he decided to do tax-collecting in the way it was intended to be done (Luke 19:1-10), not because he told the crowd he was taking his family to Zimbabwe.


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